writing, Writing advice

With the Muse on Hiatus, Exercise

Sometimes the muse seems to take a few days off, a mini-vacation if you will. When that happens, the inspiration we writers come to rely on dries up like a creek in a hundred-year-drought.

Some of us call this situation writer’s block.

We have all felt it. We have all survived it.

The key to overcoming writer’s block (or any other kind of slump for that matter) is to wait it out. Don’t go changing your writing routine and rituals, your methods that have worked for you in the past. Most of all, don’t lose faith in your talent and abilities.

Like the hundred-year-drought, your writer’s block will eventually end, but only in its own good time. Nothing you can do will end it earlier, or lessen its duration any more than the desperate farmer can end the drought, no matter how much he prays or how many rainmakers he hires. Trying to force the issue will only leave you frustrated and even more likely to doubt yourself.

Patience is important.

So we need to wait while our muse finishes her week at the beach in Pago-Pago. But what do we do in the meantime. What about that novel we need to finish? That short story?

We step away for a moment and do exercises.

It’s one of the tricks I use to overcome writer’s block. By working an exercise rather than an actual story or poem there’s no pressure to perform, yet it can still cause the creative juices to flow. (Sometimes the muse even gets jealous and returns early.)

So here’s a writing exercise I do on occasion. In the interests of full disclosure, I based this exercise on one offered by John Gardner in his book The Art of Fiction. I just expanded upon his idea.

The Situation

A farmer steps out on to the back porch of his house and looks out over his property. There is a barn, a corral with several head of cattle, a tractor, and several fields ready to plant. Trees dot the landscape.

Exercise # 1

Take the initial situation and render it from the farmer’s point of view, describing everything as he sees it the day his girlfriend accepts his marriage proposal. Do not mention the girlfriend, proposal, or upcoming wedding.

Exercise # 2

Same as Exercise # 1 except this time describe everything as the farmer sees it the day his first son is born. Do not mention the son.

Exercise # 3

This time, describe the scene as the farmer experiences it the day his wife moved out. Do not mention the wife.

Exercise # 4

Describe the scene as the farmer sees it the first day after he purchased the farm. Do not mention the purchase.

You see the pattern here. The object is to describe the same location differently with emotionally charged language. A very powerful skill. Think “show, don’t tell.” You won’t have to the reader what is going on because she’ll be able to feel it.

Plus, it might just be the spark that burns away your writer’s block.


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